‘They pointed their guns at us and started shooting’
How a bloody night of bullets and brutality quashed a young protest movement
What happened on October 20, and into the early hours of October 21, during a peaceful protest against police brutality at the eight-lane Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria has stunned the country.
The protesters who were present have told CNN it was a “massacre” with multiple people killed and dozens wounded. But local authorities have downplayed that account.
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu admitted to CNN that footage showed uniformed soldiers firing on peaceful protesters but claimed only two demonstrators were killed. But, he then said there was “not a scratch of blood” at the toll gate when he visited. The governor said no families had approached authorities saying they were missing relatives.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the army denied any involvement, describing reports of the incident as “fake news,” before backtracking and saying that soldiers were present but fired their weapons in the air and used blanks, not live rounds.
But a new investigation by CNN into the disputed events has cast doubt on authorities’ shifting and changing statements.
Evidence of bullet casings from the scene matches those used by the Nigerian army when shooting live rounds, according to current and former Nigerian military officials. Verified video footage — using timestamps and data from the video files — shows soldiers who appear to be shooting in the direction of protesters. And accounts from eyewitnesses establish that after the army withdrew, the second round of shooting happened later in the evening
Testimony from dozens of eyewitnesses and family members interviewed by CNN and a forensic examination of hours of video and dozens of photographs captured before, during and after the two shooting incidents show how a fledgeling protest movement was all but extinguished by the very thing Nigerians were demonstrating against.
From multiple videos, CNN has pieced together a timeline that shows that shooting by the army lasted from 6:43 p.m. until at least 8:24 p.m., according to video evidence.
The videos capturing some of those 101 minutes tell a story of terror and chaos. They show graphic injuries and people bleeding on the ground.
One eyewitness, Sarah, whose last name we’re not publishing for her safety, told CNN that the soldiers shot in the air but also directly at protesters.
“They pointed their guns at us and they started shooting,” she said. “They were shooting in the air, they were shooting at us, they were shooting everywhere.”
Several eyewitnesses have fled the country, while others are living in safe houses. Some told CNN they were offered money to recant their initial testimonies.
CNN has seen some of the messages received, though it is unclear who is sending them.
“We’re hiding because our lives are in danger,” an eyewitness named Sarah told CNN. “We can’t go out, our jobs are on hold right now, and it’s really sad because we did nothing wrong.”
“All we did was ask for change.”